I kind of feel obligated to write something about the end of the college basketball season, of course with UCONN winning the national championship.
There isn't much to say about the championship game itself. It was rather ugly and for the most part devoid of any suspense. Can you really blame the players for it? Sometimes that one shinning moment is so bright and so hyped up it's hard to live up to it.
But think about the journey just to get to this game, in particular for UCONN. How exhausted do you think the players were, with the sort of March run they had. Not to mention the fact that Kemba Walker said he couldn't sleep becuse he was having visions of the game and winning it.
Well, I suppose sleep will have to wait because I doubt he got any last night either. I'm sure those guys were out partying all night......
What's interesting is that this is the second basketball championship game in a row of this nature. Remember game 7 of the last year's NBA finals between the Lakers and Celtics? That wasn't exactly a gem of offensive efficiency either.
I think by now most of the people that read this blog, and most of the people I know through basketball realize that I am big on skill. Skill development and skill application. But with that said, it is fun (and in the case of last year's NBA finals - riveting) to see what players do when their skills vanish in the most important games of their lives. How do they overcome that? What sort of improvisational survival tactics do they utilize? I will admit, sometimes the game is more compelling when it is stripped of excess layers and simply comes down to will.
So in this type of game, did you really think UCONN wouldn't win? This is all they needed to complete their remarkable journey.
let me just say a couple of things about the game and about the journey.
There was a comment made by Steve Kerr half-way through the second half.
He mentioned that Jim Calhoun made an amazing adjustment in offensive schemes.
He mentioned that in the first half UCONN primarily used on the ball screens, which was defended well by Bulter because their bigs were able to get out and hedge the screens.
UCONN only had 19 points in the first half and trailed by 3.
In the second half, they went away from that completely and switched to having their bigs set screens off the ball, on the block for either Kemba Walker or Jeremy Lamb to curl off.
The strategy was successful.
Before the game, CBS interviewed Jamie Dixon, the head coach of Pitt.
Understandably so. After all, his team's last two losses of the season came to UCONN in the Big East tournament and to Butler in the NCAA tournament. He probaby had some valuable insight into the championship game.
But I couldn't help but think back to that Big East tournament game, the one where Kemba hit that step-back jumper at the end to win it - the shot that really propelled UCONN to the national championship.
From the moment I saw that play - I was beside myself with bewilderment as to why on earth Pittsburgh would just sit there and watch Kemba take his time, get comfortable and isolate on a mismatch.
Are you kidding me? Pitt couldn't have done something to get the ball out of his hands? They couldn't have doubled, helped, or do something? Anything? They had to have known that he was going to get the ball. You mean to tell me a #1 seed in the nation couldn't have made some sort of adjustment to dictate that possession in their favor?
This is why I knew Pitt wouldn't go to the final four, because for all their talent and athleticism, that final play told me that when the game mattered most, they were unable to use the muscle that mattered most (their brain).
So go back to the adjustment Calhoun made at half time.
That is great coaching.
More importantly, that is championship coaching.
And in my humble opinion, as a basketball player, a coach, and especially as a scientist, making in-game adjustments (whether subtle or overt) based on the way the game is going and by reading the opponents strategy (critical analysis), is the most important task a coach can have.
I talk about player skill sets. Well let's be fair, making in-game adjustments is a crucial skill set for a coach. In particular, recognizing when something isn't working and then switching it up.
I mentioned above that it is compelling to see how players react when their skills vanish in an important game. Well, how does a coach react when his skilled players or strategy vanish in an important game?
To make that adjustment, in the biggest game of their lives, and to incorporate a strategy that actually utilizes Jeremy Lamb (12 points in the second half) rather than Kemba Walker......that's big time.
And it also has something to do with demeanor.
Yahoo! sports had a article poking fun about how boring Coach Calhoun's championship pre-game speech was.
I listened to it and I though it was brilliant.
Straight to the point, matter of fact, calm and most importantly, letting the kids know "we are the better team."
This is the most important game of these kids lives, you think they need to be motivated?
Save the yelling and encouragement for the team that doesn't expect to win.
UCONN knows how they got to the championship, they know what they had to do.
Play hard, execute the game plan, make adjustments when needed.
Methodical yet pragmatic.
When needed, he also made the adjustment during half time as to how he would address the team, as alluded to at the end of the yahoo! article.
Don't allow the moment to be bigger than you and your team.
Play and coach the game like any other to seize the moment.
In response to Steve Kerr's comment above, Clark Kellogg answered: "that's why he is a hall of fame coach."
I will readily admit I am not a fan of college basketball.
I lived it for four years, that was enough for me.
People make it out to be some sort of pure form of basketball.
It is not.
But, the NCAA tournament does represent the idealism of basketball.
It is a grand stage in which every team that is invited really is equal.
It represents equal opportunity.
And that I believe in.
I believe in the fact that a kid from the Bronx can seize the moment and put a team on his back to carry them to a national championship.
I believe in the fact that Kemba Walker had to wait his turn, playing behind Cory Fisher (Villanova) in Junior high and then Edgar Sosa (Louisville) in high school, but kept working and knew when he got his shot to be a leader, he would do it his way - the right way - and be a champion.
I believe that Kemba believed in himself so much, and believed in his teammates so much that it elevated all of them to another level. Thats the difference between being a great player and being great.
I believe that a team can finish 9-9 in the Big East and then decide, for themselves, they are going to turn it around, no matter what anyone else thinks, no matter what the odds (5 games in 5 days? 11 wins in a row?), no matter the opponent. They decided to end the season on their own terms.
They believed they could win a national championship. And they did.
At what point does the belief become a reality? And at what point did they realize that it is a reality?
Or did they really believe from day one?
Or maybe they were just kids, just playing. Check out Alex Oriakhi's pre-game 'good luck' dance (make no mistake, that is the Harlem shake - probably another influence of Kemba. And as the late Big L once said, "Harlem breds the flyest people on earth.").
I truly believe that basketball is 80-85% confidence and belief. Call it the placebo effect.
Of course there are some players that really are head and shoulders above the rest.
But for a majority of players, the separation is so thin you wouldn't me believe in if I told you.
Sometimes it gets masked because of all the hype. But as Public Enemy said, don't believe the hype.
Sometimes it's okay to be a little irreverent.
Think of the historical significance of this final four - the first one in history that didn't include a 1 or 2 seed. I hope that is a trend that continues.
But let's be real here, there were no real upsets this year.
What, you think Butler was an underdog?
Actually their name is the bulldogs.
What, you think Butler was a Cinderella?
Since when did Cinderella have uniforms sponsored by Nike?
Give me a break.
You can continue to believe that this is all magic, and it is all talent based.
I'll continue to believe that if you get a group of kids together that work hard, are confident, poised, and play with a chip on their shoulder, they can be dangerous.
Of course talent, size, and athleticism are major components.
But I believe in skill, strategy, basketball I.Q., and the concept of team.
One thing I will give to college basketball, especially the tournament, is that it does provide a better platform for these concepts to remain relevant and to be rewarded.......
And that was what was displayed by UCONN.
Although. You know, at the end of the day......it doesn't hurt to have the best player in the country either.
After the game, one of the texts I received from a friend was: "Kemba, #3 pick in the draft."
I responded: "Who cares about the draft, this will live forever. Let's enjoy this now."
I know I did.
Congratulations young man to you and your team. You have become your dreams.
You envisioned something so hard that you made it a reality.
That is something we all can enjoy and admire.